“Want to grab lunch on State?”

Simple inquiries such as these are often heard across campus, and for good reason. State Street is one of Madison’s greatest attractions. With Memorial Union and the Terrace on one end and Wisconsin’s stunning capitol at the top, the street between these two landmarks is the heart of downtown Madison.

State Street offers virtually everything, from bars to accommodate those looking to taste Madison’s nightlife and enough coffee shops to take care of everyone the morning after. More often than not, the first things that come to mind when State Street is mentioned are any combination of coffee shops, restaurants or bars.

Unfortunately, the food and dining options on State Street aren’t part of the original culture the street offered. In the 1990s, retail was the main occupant of State Street, accounting for 69 percent of businesses there, according to city data. Now, that number has dwindled to a measly 49 percent. Inversely, the presence of bars and restaurants has increased.

While having dining options isn’t necessarily a bad thing, the  food industry is slowly overtaking State Street, washing out the vibrant culture. Retail is waning, since it is a much easier task for something such as a bar or restaurant to generate revenue, but if this trend continues, State Street will become nothing more than a glorified food court.

The quaint coffee shops and small businesses are one thing, but with the introduction of each new chain restaurants such as Wendy’s, Chipotle and Noodles & Company, the atmosphere and appeal of State Street disappears.

As someone who is a lifelong resident of Madison and the surrounding area, it is sad to see the tempo and pace of State Street change as chain corporations overshadow small businesses and shops. Obviously, as a college student, my favorite places to go to on State Street are much different than when I was younger, but regardless of age, I think Wendy’s and other restaurants of the type have no right to take up space on State Street.

Earlier this week, a city grant program launched in an attempt to support retail stores. The original idea was proposed by Mayor Paul Soglin, and went live Monday. The grant is set in place to help downtown retailers fund renovations, including both the interior and exterior.

City grant program will help State Street retailers pay for renovationsThe Joint Council approved a grant program last week that will provide funding for renovations to independent retailers on State Read…

The effort to restore some of State Street’s vibrant culture is citywide. The conversation about the face of State Street has been ongoing, and now, there is progress being made toward restoring the feeling State Street is best known for.

Long-term State Street businesses will be the first to have access to the funds, and a few, such as Triangle Mart, Community Pharmacy and The Soap Opera have already shown interest. Many more will be able to use the funds from this grant, and it is expected to last a few years.

These funds are a way to level the playing field between the dining industry and retail. With the help of the grant’s funds, small retailers will have an easier time starting up a shop on State Street, which will help further diversify the area.

 

To anyone who loves visiting State Street, this is good news. The atmosphere State Street offers is incredibly unique, and the ability to help preserve and restore that feeling is an enormous opportunity.

 

It is true that the nightlife on State Street thrives, and the restaurants offer a convenient place to meet. But there are hundreds of other places in downtown Madison that offer the same night life, but there is only one State Street. It is important we don’t cheapen the iconic Madison attraction by turning it into nothing more than a glorified food court.

Hannah Fricke ([email protected]) is a junior majoring in microbiology.